Historical records matching Olin D. T. Johnston, Governor, U.S. Senator
About Olin D. T. Johnston, Governor, U.S. Senator
Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston (November 18, 1896 – April 18, 1965) was a Democratic Party politician from the US state of South Carolina. He served as the 98th Governor of South Carolina, 1935–1939 and 1943–1945, and represented the state in the United States Senate from 1945 until his death in 1965.
Early Life, Military Involvement, and Politics
Johnston was born near Honea Path, South Carolina in Anderson County. Johnston enrolled in the Textile Industrial Institute, now Spartanburg Methodist College in 1913 and graduated in just over a year. He entered Wofford College in 1915, but his studies were interrupted by service in the United States Army during World War I. He served as a sergeant in the 42nd Division, the Rainbow Division, in France. After the war Johnston returned to Wofford, graduating in 1921. He attended law school at the University of South Carolina and was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1923, representing Anderson County for one term. He was elected to the same body in 1927 as a representative from Spartanburg County and served for two terms. As a young legislator, Johnston was an advocate of the state's textile mill workers, and his major accomplishment was shepherding a law that required mill owners to install sewers in mill villages.
Johnston made his first campaign for governor in 1930, and led the slate of candidates in the primary, but lost by around 1,000 votes in the runoff election. Undeterred by the loss, Johnston ran again and was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1934, serving for one term. On taking office, Johnston proposed a series of bills to aid the state's textile workers. An ardent New Dealer, Johnston managed to push his legislative program through the state house of representatives only to meet defeat in the Lowcountry-dominated state senate. In what has become the most famous fight between a governor and legislature in South Carolina history, Johnston tried to dismiss a number of members of the powerful State Highway Commission. After the commissioners refused to leave their posts, Johnston mobilized the National Guard to occupy the offices of the Highway Department. Ultimately, Johnston lost his battle with the Highway Commission, and severely wounded his already poor relationship with the legislature. Johnston lost his power to name highway commissioners, a power that the governor's office has never regained. His term saw the creation of the state's first Labor Department and its first Industrial Commission, and under his leadership, the state embarked on a major rural electrification project.
Unable to run for re-election in 1938, Johnston challenged "Cotton Ed" Smith for the United States Senate. The race brought national interest, as Smith had developed into an opponent of the New Deal and Johnston was a strong supporter. Smith was one of the senators that President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to purge. Ultimately, Johnston lost the race to Smith.
Johnston then ran for the Senate in a special election 1941 to replace James F. Byrnes, losing to Burnet R. Maybank.
Johnston was elected Governor of South Carolina again in 1942. He won a narrow victory in the Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the General Election. The outbreak of World War II meant that labor issues would not be as prominent in Johnston's second term. During his second term, Johnston signed laws which attempted to circumvent the Smith v. Allwright decision by making the South Carolina Democratic Party a private organization. He served until his resignation on January 3, 1945 in order to accept his U.S. Senate seat.
Johnston was elected to the Senate in 1944, defeating "Cotton Ed" Smith in a rematch of their 1938 race. Johnston was re-elected three times, serving in the Senate until his death in 1965. He served for several years as Chairman of the now-defunct Post Office Committee. Johnston was not as conservative as most other Senators from the Deep South, retaining a populist position on many economic issues. Unlike most Southern Democrats, Johnston opposed the anti-union Taft-Hartley labor law in 1947 and he voted for both the War on Poverty and Medicare in his last full year in office, 1964. However, like all other politicians from the Deep South during this period, Johnston was orthodox on the "race question", opposing all civil rights legislation.
While not a prominent figure nationally, Johnston was very well-entrenched in his home state. He may be the only Senator to have defeated two future Senators. He retained his seat despite challenges from Strom Thurmond in the Democratic primary in 1950 and Ernest Hollings in the 1962 primary. In both cases Johnston was the more liberal candidate. Hollings, then serving as Governor, attacked the Senator as "the tool of the Northern labor bosses", yet Johnston defeated him by a 2–1 margin.
Johnston's daughter, Elizabeth Johnston Patterson, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina's Fourth Congressional District from 1987 to 1993. She was the 1994 Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.